Imagine judging whether a girl is married or not, by looking at her hairdo! Well, among the Nazranis of Kerala this was possible till a few decades back. An unmarried girl had to wear her hair down plaited or tied. Only married women would normally have their hair tied above the shoulders. But all women had to cover their head at a place of worship.
I think that this practice prevailed among the Latin Christians as well. In both communities, inside a church the men used to occupy the front portion and the women had to be at the back. Now the women stay on the left side and the men on the right. Why this pattern? I don’t know. An afterthought – the good thief was crucified on the right side of Jesus Christ. No offence meant to women. It is men who make the rules in the church.
Reverting to the hairdo – initially I thought that the custom might have been connected with Jewish traditions. On checking I find that among Orthodox Jews unmarried women do not have to cover their hair. But the Sephardic (Spanish & Portuguese Jews) custom requires that even unmarried girls should put up their hair.
However, Semitic influence can be seen in some aspects of Syrian Christian life. I have described one instance, about names, in the post Jewish names among Syrian Christians. That, however, has a Biblical angle. Till recently, in some old Syrian Christian families pork and fish that has no scale were taboo to eat. This obviously is a Jewish custom.
Talking about food, in the post Sadhya - a sumptuous Kerala meal I explained why the Nazranis are supposed to fold in the left end of the banana leaf from which they eat a meal. This is a royal privilege that many modern Syrian Christians don’t even know.
Would you believe that there was a time when Syrian Catholics were not allowed to read the Bible? The reason given for this was that laymen who were not trained may end up attributing wrong interpretations to the statements in the Holy Book. Now, al Catholic families are supposed to have a Bible and read it everyday. Here one must acknowledge the contribution of Joseph Pulikunnel (Hosana) in providing Bibles at low cost to the households.
In well-to-do Syrian Catholic families children were tutored at home in the 19c. The curriculum included Malayalam, Tamil, Sanskrit, other subjects and Carnatic music. English was frowned upon because it was the language of the Protestants! Learning of Carnatic music was also discouraged or banned by the Church because the songs invoked Hindu gods!
I have written this from the little knowledge that I have. It would be a great service if those who have more information on this subject come forward with their comments.